News & Features

Month After Blast, Plum Creek Fiberboard Plant Returns to Operation

Mechanical failure caused explosion and fire on June 10 that shut down plant

A month after an explosion and fire rocked Plum Creek’s medium density fiberboard plant in Columbia Falls, the company is ramping back up to full production.

On June 30, three weeks after the explosion, Plum Creek’s thin fiberboard production line 2 was restarted. Line 1, which produces thick fiberboard, will be restarted later this week. Both production lines were shut down on June 10 when a “catastrophic bearing failure” caused a fire and explosion that blew out one of the plant’s walls. No one was injured in the incident.

Since the blast, Plum Creek’s 180 fiberboard plant employees have been working around the clock to repair the damaged facility. Besides rebuilding the damaged raw material line and building, Tom Ray, vice president of northwest resources and manufacturing for Plum Creek, said the company has improved the fire suppression system at the plant.

“We’ve improved the system so that will safeguard the plant and prevent similar incidents like this in the future,” he said.

The plant annually produces more than 200 million square feet of fiberboard used in furniture, doors and flooring, among other items. While the plant was being repaired, Plum Creek was still able to sell and ship fiberboard from its 10 million feet of inventory that was stored in the plant and not damaged in the blaze.

While the explosion and fire caused a fair amount of damage, much of it was due to the 1.5 million gallons of water used to douse the flames. The water soaked critical computer systems and electrical motors on the fiberboard press line. When workers returned to the plant the morning after the blaze, they found nearly 10 feet of water in the pits below the fiberboard press lines.

The submerged electrical motors have been removed and are being dried out and rebuilt or completely replaced. Ray said the company is still trying to determine the cost of the explosion, but noted it has insurance to cover both damages and lost production.

Safety manager Shauna Dunn said employees reacted appropriately when the explosion occurred. At the time of the blast there were 66 workers and two contractors in the building. The explosion was centered on the raw product line and in the ducts high above the production floor, where most workers are located, so few people were actually near the blast.


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